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There’s a gap between who you are and who you wish you could be.  A hole that you tell yourself can only be filled with discipline, hard work, and sometimes more than a little frustration.

But what happens if you stop beating yourself up because you’re not thinner, more productive or traveling the world? What happens when you let go of expectations, both society’s and your own?

What if the real work is to become comfortable with who you are today?

There’s a dark side to self-improvement that we don’t talk about very often, but was summed up beautifully by one of my clients, Maria:

I am so exhausted of trying to improve myself all the time that I do not want it anymore. I just want to be myself, to do what I like, to have time and to enjoy my life.  There’s not enough time to have it all. On the assumption that the next year might be the last year (as you wrote in your blog): How long shall I wait for just enjoying my life and not focusing on improving it constantly?

I couldn’t stop thinking about this question because, as Leo Babauta says, self-improvement has been a rallying cry in my life in for a very long time.  The vision of a better me kept me going when I wondered if all the time and effort I was putting into something was really worth it.

But the truth is, it also served as the basis for an awful lot of guilt and self-loathing when I failed to reach my “ideal” as fast or as completely as I wanted.  I know exactly what Maria means about feeling exhausted.

When it came to the subject Maria and I were really discussing, changing careers, the answer seemed obvious.  I told her changing careers isn’t about self-improvement at all, but about being more true to who you are right now.

That’s when the light bulb went off.

I realized being yourself isn’t nearly as easy as it looks.  And that maybe much of the frustration and angst I see among those trying to change careers, or make any other big change in their life, comes from the disconnect between those two visions of the self.  Not because you can’t improve or change, but that it may actually be counter-productive to a happier life, a conclusion Gretchen Rubin came to in her book The Happiness Project.

Lately, when I’ve wanted clarity on a topic or just some validation that some big idea I’m kicking around isn’t totally crazy, I’ve been pasting it to my Facebook page.  Here are a couple of the responses I got to whether this gap between who we are and who we wish we could be was a good thing, or a source of serious frustration … or both.

What I love about these two entries is that they so perfectly sum up the two voices in my own head.  Back and forth, back and forth, because don’t they both seem absolutely true?

Below, I tackle some of the four of the most common areas for self-improvement, and discuss how I settled the argument, at least in my own head

1. Weight loss

A couple of months after I stopped breast-feeding my daughter, my weight skyrocketed.  Where I’d been able to rely on a fast metabolism prior to giving birth, no more.  It wasn’t long before I got completely disgusted with myself.

I joined Weight Watchers, picked a target weight with the help of a personal trainer, and within a few months, I looked better than I did pre-pregnancy.

People who knew me then always remark how well I’ve kept the weight off over the years.  But I’m actually about 5-7 pounds heavier than that “ideal weight” I chose for myself.

When I told a friend I was struggling to get back to my “ideal weight,” he told me that I’d reached my “happy weight” and should give up on ideal.  He explained your “happy weight” is the weight you can maintain with a diet you enjoy (that is, you’re not dieting at all, but just eating what comes naturally).

For the last year, I thought he was crazy.  I stepped on the scale and lamented the extra weight, day after day, but failed to make lasting changes to my diet necessary to lose weight.

Now I think my friend is brilliant.  I may not look like an air-brushed supermodel or the way I did in my 20′s, but the truth is, I’m happy with the current trade-off between my diet and my weight.  It’s well within the range of healthy.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to lose weight if you’re truly unhappy or unhealthy. But beyond that, ending the mental struggle between “ideal” and “happy” is a huge relief.

2. Getting fit

Every year I have a fitness test that I have to take for the Air Force.  And every year I completely stress out about it.

I used to be better about working out.  In fact, I used to run marathons until my knees decided otherwise.  But it was always something I had to push myself to do.

I hired a personal trainer much of the time, just to force myself to show up.  And while I got a high from a good workout, if you’d asked me the next day if I wanted to go again, I would have said, “not really.”

I wish I could be like Farnoosh Brock, who makes yoga look sexy and is clearly energized by it.  I wish I P90X didn’t sound like some modern form of torture.

When we moved to London, we decided to test out living without a car.   Which means in a typical day, I might walk 2 or 3 miles up and down a number of hills, just picking my daughter up from school and running errands.  If I’m feeling really sporty, I take a walk in the huge park near our house.

It’s not glamorous, but I’m ready to admit that I’m a walker.  It makes me happy.  I’m telling myself it’s good enough–because it is.

3. Being a better parent

Recently, when I went back to the States for a couple of weeks, we hired a nanny to pick my daughter up from school and spend a few hours with her until my husband could get home.  Every day I got reports of the amazing crafts they made, the farm they visited, and how they went swimming (twice).

It was like we hired Mary Poppins.  And it made me just a wee bit sick.

Being a good mom is about the most important thing in the world to me.  But put some pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks and some markers in my hands, and I’m completely befuddled.  And while I occasionally take my daughter on fun trips around the city, more often than not we come back to the house and veg out.

In fact, if I’m being really honest, she spends an awful lot of time entertaining herself.

Then I realized that I did the same thing as a kid.  I had a pretty active imagination and happily spent hours upon hours in my room, creating worlds with my dolls and generally day-dreaming.  It’s actually something I’m proud of about myself.

Last night, after two full weeks at home with what I call a pretty dull mother, my daughter told me she loves spending time at home with the family.  Apparently, Mary Poppins parenting isn’t required.  Whew!

4. Balance

The biggest thing I’ve been struggling with over the last year is my over-achiever nature.  There are times I’ve nearly quit my budding business, the work I absolutely love, because I was convinced I didn’t have the right “balance.”

When I left the Air Force, I had visions of quiet, slow-moving days.  I’d get the family ready for school and work, then work out at the gym (ahem), and maybe spend some time browsing a farmer’s market, thinking about that evening’s delicious meal.  I imagined myself relaxed and stress-free (insert Mary Poppins image here).

Let’s just say it didn’t exactly work out like that.  That kind of life is a complete and utter fantasy, at least for me.

For a year, I’ve been battling two images: the one I describe above and the one I’m living, and truth be told, enjoying.  But I felt guilty that I was working so hard, that I’d stress about my next launch or lose sleep over not writing more guest posts.

Nearly everyone tells you to stop worrying about those things, because in the grand scheme of things, they don’t matter.

You know what?  They matter to me.

I’m a driven woman, and for a long time, I somehow felt this was wrong, that it needed to be fixed or cured, much like a disease.

This is a huge moment for me, but my only resolution this year is to embrace myself more honestly and fully.  No more feeling guilty when I want to work.  No more admonishing myself to get out and see the world, when my greatest enjoyment comes from having a cup of tea in a local cafe and taking a walk around the park.

That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to develop my skills or learn new things.  Those “improvements” are part of my nature as a life-long learner.  But there’s an acknowledgement (and a relief) that I don’t really need to do or be anything I don’t want to.  I’m just fine the way I am.

I’m a writer and an entrepreneur, and yes, an over-achieving introvert.

And this year, I’m going to enjoy it.

Editor’s note: If all goes according to plan, the No Regrets Career Academy will reopen next week!  If you’re interested in being more true to yourself and your work this year, sign up now to get early notification of the amazingly good deal I’ll be offering this year.  You seriously won’t believe what’s included.  And if you signed up already, no need to do so again. We’ve got you covered!

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54 Responses to Is Self-Improvement Ruining Your Life?

    • On
    • January 3, 2012 at 9:51 am
    • Marta DeGraw
    • Said...

    Jen, thanks for such a thoughtful post (as always!). I love your review of both sides of the typical self-improvement discussions (arguments?!) we all have in our heads. And here’s to all the over-achieving introverts who are planning to embrace–and celebrate!–this powerful combination in the coming year.

    Cheers!
    Marta

    • Thanks, Marta. Nothing like starting off the year with an a-ha AND a yee-haw! LOL. Glad to be sharing this journey with you. :)

  1. You basically touched on everything I am battling with as well. I guess its true that humans have the same needs. I gave up on self-improvement theory a long time ago, instead I focused on living life at my personal best. Telling me that there is a better me is really not going to solve anything unless I wake up every morning feeling renewed, refreshed and ready to bring my A-game. I am an over-achieving extrovert and I crave fitness, balance, etc, but I am done with self-improvement blog or books telling me that I am not good enough, because I am.

    • Yes, I’ve seen a lot of similarities in our stories, Blessing. I guess the thing is: if you really crave something, you’ll do it. You don’t need a self-improvement book. And if you don’t crave it, then you likely won’t stick with it (or will always resent it), so what’s the point? Here’s to a year filled with our personal best!

    • On
    • January 3, 2012 at 11:51 am
    • Barbara
    • Said...

    I am so happy that this move to London seems to really be good for you Jen. I, too, live in a city where I can walk to the market and generally get by without a car. I love that. I’ve never been a big fan of working out, even when I owned a gym! I love the ideal vs. happy weight theory. I’ve struggled with that most of my adult life and now I’m at my happy wt. It’s good to let it go and put happiness ahead of ideals that are thrust upon us by society.

    As for the Mary Poppins ideal… I worry at times that my grandchildren are over scheduled and overwrought. They aren’t very good at entertaining themselves and that’s a shame. We need to learn how to ‘be’ with ourselves and I think it should start early in life. I think you’re on the right track with that!

    Finally I have to say that I am dropping several blogs (not yours!) this year simply because I’m tired of finding 10 ‘How to…’ lists in my inbox everyday. That trend really has to change or some blogs are going to fall by the wayside. I think you’re on the right track with establishing a course and helping those who are truly seeking your help. You don’t preach… I like that!

    Here’s to a truly happy and successful 2012 for all of us!
    b

    • Yes, I feel like I’m really finding myself here. Over and over again, my husband and I dreamily sit in some neighborhood cafe and wonder, “Why are we so happy here? What is it that we like so much?” It’s certainly not been the things I thought I would love about living here. I mean, five months and we haven’t left the city except for work! So that’s been a hard recognition for me, that I don’t really like traveling as much as I wish I did. But that’s okay. In the meantime, we’re having one heck of a time soaking up this glorious city.

      And I hear you on kids being over-scheduled. I think I worried I was way at the opposite end of that spectrum, but it’s so hard to evaluate in a generational context. Even though, like my daughter, I was an only child, I don’t remember my parents EVER worrying about serving as my playmate. But by the time I became a parent, this seem expected.

      And so glad you’ll be sticking around. I always love your insights. I learn so much from you. Definitely raising my glass to you and the other luminaries!

        • On
        • January 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm
        • Barbara
        • Said...

        And I learn from you as well Jen! If we’re lucky we never stop learning!

    • On
    • January 3, 2012 at 11:56 am
    • Valerie
    • Said...

    Goodness gracious. Your posts just get better and better. This one in particular resonated with me and touched on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately. Seems that when I’m feeling Not as good as I want to be in one area, that little voice in my head starts pointing out flaws in all those other areas. Its a relief to take a breath, step back, and realize that I’m really not doing too badly. And really, maybe I just need a nap and not a personality/job/life overhaul :)

    • Thank you, Valerie! Yes, the unkind voices only encourage one another, don’t they? And I can’t agree more on the nap idea when you’re feeling down. My husband is on orders to send me to bed any time I get too cranky or down on myself. Sleep is like a wonder drug!

    • On
    • January 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm
    • Chapin
    • Said...

    Wow. This is an insightful, thoughtful post that really resonates with me. After coming to terms with the fact that I am a perfectionist, I’ve realized that being an overachiever goes hand in hand with that. I actually want to spend this year listening more to my heart and less to my brain. This year’s motto for me is Living Peacefully. Thank you again for continuing to blog about topics so dear to my personal development.

    • Yes, I think it’s great that you’re coming to terms with being a perfectionist. As long as you understand the positives and negatives of that trait (as there are with any trait), why not embrace it?! Don’t fear your brain, though. It’s got the logic after all. It’s actually the emotion that fuels the fear. But then, I’m a scientist, so I’m biased. LOL

      So glad this resonated for you, Chapin. Happy new year!

    • On
    • January 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm
    • Portia
    • Said...

    What a perfect post to kick off the new year! I think Jill from your FB page says something really powerful which is about understanding essential truths about ourselves and ignoring reality. So many of us (and I have been guilty) indulge in magical thinking – we dream of who think we should be rather than who we really are. I know that fundamentally I too am hard-wired to want to achieve more, do more and that essential truth won’t change. BUT it’s been tempered with age and experience as I’ve learned to focus on what matters. I’ve also learned to be less rigid about how I define success as well as be more accepting of who I am and take joy in the present. All that has made me less focused on pursuing some elusive ideal of who I think I should be and just focus on being the best person I can be today.

    • I agree, Portia. I considered making those two Facebook comments the entire post, because in a way, they say it all. But then I remembered I’m a blogger, gosh darn it… LOL. No, I totally agree with you, the magical thinking is deadly. And it’s so pervasive. Actually, that would be a really good companion to this post. See, more good input!

      And I also agree that my achiever tendencies have changed with age. I’m less about “winning” in the classical sense, and more about creating and growing, or as Blessing put it, achieving my personal best. I think there’s a good reason that Da Vinci didn’t go pro until he was 30.

    • On
    • January 3, 2012 at 12:40 pm
    • Raj
    • Said...

    I don’t know who that Mary Poppins is, but I am going to find out right after this comment. Her profile (as described by you) is exciting :)

    I think pushing ourselves is not bad – There are certain times in life when we need to push ourselves. Happiness can wait during those times. But then, we do realize that we are over-pushing ourselves and might want to go back to our happier selves. It happens automatically, because its a cycle.

    • Raj,
      Ahaha! Yes, Mary Poppins is quite the character. Highly recommended!

      And I agree. In the best of circumstances, the cycle that you describe takes care of itself. But I think as we get more messages to be productive and create legacies, the more the cycle gets short-circuited. That’s why this post was necessary, at least for me.

  2. You’ve wrapped your arms around so many universal (and often annoying) existential questions that are both plagues and revelations depending on the day, and perhaps the weather. I was struck by two points you made that serve as antidotes to those questions: Spare yourself guilt and relax your personal improvement expectations.

    I once worked with a brilliant man who refused to improve on his weaknesses as his bosses suggested. He thought his time was much better spent improving his strengths, something much more enjoyable and rewarding. I think we was on to something. Great post, ~Dawn

    • I think the Strengths movement has a lot going for it, but I think we can simplify the message even further: work on whatever you feel like. And if you don’t feel like working on anything, that’s okay too. The goal is happiness, not constant improvement. I think the guilt comes from feeling like you’re either not keeping pace or not reaching the arbitrary levels of competency you feel you should.

  3. I was happily reading away, repeatedly saying “yes!” and “oh yeah, I get that,” and bam! Hey, that’s me! :)

    I stand by what I said in my Facebook post, and will add that for me, it simply came down to the fact that while things needed to change in my life, it wasn’t so much me that needed to change–what actually needed to happen first is that I had to accept myself, love myself, right where I was. I couldn’t move on until I met myself where I was. And the magic thing was once I started to do that, I realized that this mad dash I was making to get somewhere wasn’t working because where I was trying so hard to get is h e r e. The problem wasn’t that I had the wrong life or was doing it wrong, I wasn’t even IN my life. I had to finally tell myself: If you are waiting for something to happen, stop waiting and happen. I had to get out of my own way and BE. Centered in that, present for my real life, I can start to change what’s not working–but I had to show up first.

    And I’ll say again, yours was one of the first voices that helped me to see that. I know that the focus of your business is change, but for me it ultimately wasn’t about needing to change, I just needed to stop running away and embody my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • I loved your comment, Jill, though I’m not sure I deserve that much credit! Either that or I was providing insights I hadn’t fully formed myself yet. LOL. I especially like the contrast between your comment and Jennifer’s, because in the end, I think both of you are right. It was fun thinking about how that was possible. So thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom. And congrats on accepting the life you have now. That’s a wonderful achievement in and of itself!

  4. All the things you speak of are on my 2012 resolution list: Eat better, exercise more, be kinder, find more balance and you know, it is so exhausting at times. Especially when I add, work harder, writer more, spend more time with my family.

    Thank you for always putting these things into perspective for me.

    • It’s okay to have resolutions, Denise, but I’d say pick only one, and stick with it until you do it. All of those are hard changes to make. But if you focus on just one at a time, not only are you more likely to make the change, you’re more likely to enjoy the process of changing. Hang in there and know we’ve got your back! :)

  5. What a wonderful post Jen. It’s funny how when you hit a road block or a challenge in your life every blog post you read seems to reflect it back at you. It’s a bit like deciding to buy a white car and then every car you see seems to be white.

    I’ve been really hitting myself over the head myself for not achieving enough and not completing my goals as I wished last year. Yet almost everyone I know says I’m one of the most productive people around. But I always expect more from myself. After reading your post and a few others I’ve decided that I’m going to try shelving goals for a year and instead focus on understanding my core values and living according those. I’m even going allow myself to have dreams again that I might not achieve, but that I can just enjoy!

    • Yes, that’s so true that you see what you’re reflecting on everywhere. It’s a good thing, I think.

      Definitely come back and let me know how the “no goals” thing works for you. I’ve been listening to Leo Babauta talk about for a while, and I think he has me nearly convinced. I don’t if going “no goals” works with my personality (and thus being more true to who I am), but I’m definitely all in with ending my drive for self-improvement. Would love to know how it works for you.

    • On
    • January 4, 2012 at 4:06 am
    • Tom
    • Said...

    Yeah, I agree with your article. But I think some things should be achieved. For example: good communication skills – know how to express our emotions, live by assertiveness. Many people are not assertive, so they suffer. I’m on of them. My goal is to become more assertive. I think assertiveness is basic skill everyone should learn. What do you think? Thanks.

    • Tom,
      I dunno. I’m never comfortable saying anything is good for everyone. Some people may need to be more assertive, but certainly not everyone. And where do we draw the magical line for the right amount of assertiveness? In the end, there are many ways to get what you want. The important thing is that you get it, not how.

      On the positive side, I think you posited your opinion very assertively, so you’re making progress! ;)

    • On
    • January 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm
    • Susan
    • Said...

    Such an excellent post. There really is a fine line, I think, between wanting to improve ourselves and feeling like we *must* improve ourselves. 2011 was kind of a crappy year for me, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want, both short-term and long-term and I think I’m getting there. I do want to be more productive, and that’s about the only thing I’m focusing on right now. And that’s enough!

    • Yes, yes, yes! That’s exactly the line I was talking about. My only suggestion is to think hard about why you want to be more productive. I think you’re supposed to ask yourself “why” at least five times to get to the heart of any problem you’re dealing with. I know I found that with something like travel, the real desire wasn’t what I thought it was. So I started out being frustrated that I wasn’t making more time for travel, esp. since we’re now living in London. Then, when I really thought about the Last Year of Your Life, I realized travel wasn’t a big part of that. So why was I so eager to travel? I do like seeing new places, but it become a kind of status thing for me, to prove how adventurous I was. Once I let go of that notion, I could focus on things that were honestly more important, like growing my business.

      Food for thought! And here’s hoping 2012 is 100x better for you than 2011. :)

  6. So much of your post could have also been my story (not the London and bit but that would’ve been cool!) But the way you feel about achieving and yet being content is something I have struggled with as well. I don’t want to just “settle in” where I am, but I get weary from the constant voice in my head telling me to “Push on, do more, grow, change…”.
    So one of my goals for this year? Learn to be content wherever and whatever state I find myself. And, always keep my mind open to learning something new. It will be interesting to see where you and I end up in a few months!
    One place I am pushing forward is in our eating habits. This is more of a health concern than a weight or looking trim. Our goal is to eat clean 90% of the time, but for now we are doing a 3 week detox. This goal I AM pushing through on as it is very important to my husband and I right now.
    Happy New Year Jen!
    Bernice

    • I agree, Bernice. I’m learning this from Leo too. The truth is, given some free time, I LOVE watching training videos on marketing. I mean, am I born to be an entrepreneur or what? LOL So where does all the angst come from? Feeling like I have to make my big picture vision happen immediately, or by comparing myself to others, many of whom have been in business years longer than I have. So far it’s working well. I think the other thing to note is that SOME of the angst is fear in disguise. When I make myself finally do the thing I’m scared of, the stress disappears almost immediately.

      We’re doing this together!

  7. In addition to working on the things I (you,everyone) want to improve, it’s important to remember that I am human. If I’m always reaching my goals my goals aren’t high enough. If I never reach my goals, my goals are unrealistic. If I’m constantly unhappy about the goals I don’t reach, I have to learn to give me a break and maybe even love myself a little more. Sounds easy, but if it were easy, anyone can do it. Found you via Marya. I guess I owe her one.

    • Well, that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, this idea that if I achieve all my goals, I’m not setting them high enough. And I guess I’m calling that into doubt. This may work for me simply because one of my core values is to build courage. I’ve gotten really good at noticing when fear is holding me back from something I want, then walking into it instead of away from it. Because of that, I don’t think I have to worry about setting my goals too low. And if you get to THAT point, well, a lot of other things take care of themselves. But, and this is the point you make, the being gentle with yourself is another beast all together, and definitely something I do need to work on. So I think focusing on being true to myself will hopefully get me there. Always open to other avenues though, so if you think of some, let me know.

      And welcome! I guess I owe Marya too. :)

  8. Being yourself certainly isn’t as easy as it looks. As a task-oriented introvert, I can certainly relate and I loved reading this post for so many reasons.

    You are so right. We often punish ourselves for working too hard, treating it like an affliction. We’re not slowing down enough. Well, I can certainly live in the moment, but that usually involves acting on some plans, because that’s my “ideal.” For me, being industrious is fun. Learning about social media is fun. But achieve and be happy, right? Well at least do it for the right reasons.

    On the opposite end, I don’t want to beat myself up for not traveling the world. That’s coming, but for other reasons that involve lifestyle changes my wife and I have discussed.

    I used to feel I had to improve now I want to improve. And lately I’ve really pushed myself to embrace discomfort. I’ve found when I do that it leads to even greater experiences. As a fellow introvert, public speaking scares me, but I really do love it.

    Nice post, Jen. Glad Srini introduced me to your blog!

    • Craig,
      Yes, yes, being industrious IS fun. Maybe we need to start a new blog with that name. Or Overachievers Anonymous. LOL. I think about that sometimes. It’s honestly very liberating to come out of my over-achiever closet.

      Regarding travel: I will say that I also realized that my achiever tendencies has hijacked my travel plans as well. That is, when I honestly considered The Last Year of Your Life, traveling around the world wasn’t a priority. And yet, I have been beating myself up about not traveling more now that we’re in the UK (okay, I can admit it’s sad we haven’t left London in 5 months…but there’s a lot to do here, really!). I think travel has really taken on this romantic notion of late, and there’s a sense you’re really missing out if you’re not traveling over the globe. At least for me, travel became a way to feed my ego, not just my soul. That’s not to say I don’t like to see new places and people, but I realize I don’t need to feel badly that I’m not making it a priority when I’d rather work on my business.

      So glad we intersected online as well! :)

      • Makes me wonder what someone like Leo B would think about that? “Being industrious IS fun?” Overachiever Zen ;)

        Travel is an interesting one. I’ve often had feelings of regret not seeing the world when I was younger. I know people who did this on the cheap and have so much to talk about. But I realized feeling this way was certainly no help. So, no more regrets, but I do look forward to planning trips in the near future, for the right reasons. Better late than never.

        London must be great. Where did you move from?

        • Oh, I’m fairly sure Leo would agree that being industrious is fun. He’s quite industrious himself. Goodness, I wouldn’t want to race him, that’s for sure!

          We’re military, so we move often, but most recently came from Alabama. Come to London and I’ll show you around. Would be a pleasure. :)

            Yes, read about that new challenge he took part in. Didn’t look like too much fun. :)

            Wow, that is quite a move and thanks for the invite! One of the best things about blogging is getting to know people from around the globe.

  9. Thank you so much for this Jen! I’ve been working through these same issues. Being a very driven introvert I’ve been working with Leo’s no-goals concept to stretch myself. Instead of beating myself up for not living up to my somewhat unrealistic goals and timelines, I ask myself what makes me happy and go with that. Living more in the moment and being OK with it.

    I also love what you said about your daughter. When I’m working at home I frequently feel guilty about not being Mary Poppins. My kids are great at amusing themselves. I amuse myself by eaves dropping on their magical stories. Thanks for reminding me that I don’t have to feel bad about not being Super Mom. Our kids are happy and we’re all doing our best and we should be proud of that.

    • I think what’s hard for me about the complete no-goals concept is that sometimes you have to do things that aren’t very fun at the moment. I face this all the time, and sometimes it’s an issue of fear, other times it’s just part of the mundane work that is necessary for a big project. If I only did what I felt like at the moment, I don’t feel like I’d make nearly as much progress. So I can’t tell if Leo just has a much broader definition of fun, or I’m over-thinking it.

      • I think (and I over-think a lot too) that you have to keep a broader perspective. Any big project includes mundane pieces. I’ve never heard Leo speak of outsourcing the mundane but plenty of other people do. I’m not there yet but will be soon.

    • On
    • January 5, 2012 at 10:34 am
    • Sadya
    • Said...

    I heard Will Smith on Larry King live say that he & his wife strive everyday to be better than who they were the day before. And I thought now that’s what self-improvement should be about.
    We all at some point think we are too thin/ fat/ old. the truth is we are just exhausting ourselves over standards set by tabloids & tv- even though we know they are airbrushed.
    Angelina Jolie is like the epitome of a perfect woman- 6 kids and a great figure. But those kids are mostly managed by nannies, who are not seen in public since its not good for her image. The perfect body is because well her career depends on it. Yet we think we should be able to pull all that off too.
    Cindy Crawford once famously said “even i dont look like Cindy Crawford”.
    As for being a perfect parent. its just not possible, you can be a better parent, and just do your best to raise a good human being.

    • You know, that quote from Will Smith, I think that still has an undercurrent of a message that says, “I need improvement.” And I struggle here, but I’m all for learning and growing, obviously, and I’d like to think that’s what he’s talking about when he says he wants to be a better person than he was yesterday. But I think these subtle messages that we need improving may be hurting us more than we realize, and may take us farther away from who we really are. Just sayin’!

    • On
    • January 5, 2012 at 11:52 am
    • Marsha
    • Said...

    Hi Jen
    I love this blog post.
    I used to think (and let’s get real, sometimes still do) that I needed a LOT of improvement. I’ve never understood “balance” to be a really good thing. I think working hard at things I love is making me happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve invested a lot of time and money in what might be termed self-improvement. At first I was coming from a place of, “There’s something fundamentally wrong with me and I’m going to get to the bottom of what it is.” Now I see that I no longer need to identify with my thoughts or things or external reference points. This journey has been totally worth it. For me, it’s become more about knowing myself and how I fit into this world, understanding how to get along better with others, and generally learning how to create more peace and joy for myself. I’m in the process of creating my own life rules, which will inevitably evolve as I learn even more. I do think it’s a dangerous treadmill to get on, if one is coming from a place of, “There’s something missing in me” or “I’d be happier if only I had X or was more Y.” My love of learning and being at peace and sharing bits of wisdom keeps me interested in reading blogs like yours and books and articles. That includes learning about what kind of fitness is right for me… We all need some level of activity, and I’ve found what’s fun for me. This ongoing learning and changing keeps me from getting stale, keeps me in touch with my edge, keeps me endlessly fascinated in the world, and grows my self-awareness. It’s when I start comparing myself with someone else who I think has “more” or is somehow “better” than me, or thinking in ways I described above, that I get into a whole lot of trouble. Right now I’m spending more and more time doing what I love, and it has nothing to do with self-improvement but with my core values that I identified through the NRCA exercise :-) That seems to be taking the focus off of “improving”. Maybe another way of seeing it is as a process of refining and evolving: our skills, awareness, ability to accept and give love.

    • Totally agree with throwing out the external reference points, Marsha. Only bad things come of those comparisons. Glad to hear you’re seeing such progress. I agree, the core values are great for identifying what’s really important, and what isn’t.

    • On
    • January 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm
    • Tola Seng
    • Said...

    Jen, I’m not sure how I came across your website. This article was in my feedly feed somehow. But after I read it, I most definitely will be subscribing to your site.

    What you’ve said rings true to me and was even more surprising because I had just came to the same realization after a lengthy process of self-realization. And by the looks of the replies here, many people have as well.

    If you notice in the facebook conversation in your article. One point of view starts off with, “Absolutely” and the other point of view starts with, “I think.” That to me is the differentiation between an acceptance of what is real vs being caught in a game of illusions.

    • Glad you like the post, and welcome! I love the fact that we can debate and safely consider ideas from multiple angles. It’s a great community. Glad to have you join us!

  10. Pingback: Link Love 1/6/12 | Cordelia Calls It Quits

    • On
    • January 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm
    • Susanna
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    This is my first time commenting on a blog – I really love and enjoy reading your blog. I recently starting following you several months ago through another blogger (don’t remember which one, but I follow some of the bloggers that you mention).

    Out of all of them, YOUR blog and words resonant with me the MOST! I wanted to thank you for putting your journey and life out there, and for your thought-provoking, intentioned, and optimistic articles.

    I also love the support of the community here and feel a great positive energy from everyone that comments. I look forward to your future posts & the great community posts. Again, THANK YOU and keep DOING what you are DOING! :)

    • Susanna,
      Thanks so much–that’s a super nice compliment and it means a lot. I agree, the community at Everyday Bright is amazing. I pinch myself all the time (figuratively of course)!

      I hope you’ll continue to comment. This is definitely a safe place to explore, debate, and dream. :)

    • On
    • January 9, 2012 at 1:19 am
    • Selena
    • Said...

    Jennifer, I learned of you through Jon Morrow. This is the first post that I’ve read of yours that was like looking in the mirror. I struggle so much with guilt of wanting too much now. Why do I NEED it? Are my kids/husband suffering? Why do I feel guilty All.The.Time?!
    I always have an idea or project that I want to do attack and make successful. Have I been successful? Depends on who you ask :) After a rough year with the work/family dilemma, I finally told my husband, “Stop trying to change the person God made me.” I’ve ALWAYS wanted more…am I never content? Or just full of ideas that I want to share?
    Maybe I’ll figure it out in 2012.
    As for Leo’s No-Goals idea…interesting, but scary… I don’t know if I could pull it off!
    Looking forward to lots of learning this year.
    Cheers!
    Selena

    • Yep, you’re not alone. Isn’t that comforting? LOL. Embrace who you are. It’s the only thing that I found that helps. Not that you have to pursue everything now, but accept that you want something you can’t have. I’m constantly telling my 4-year-old. Time I told myself. And while you may never be content, that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. They really are different.

    • On
    • January 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm
    • Millen
    • Said...

    I HAVE SOME CHALLENGES IN MY LIFE BUT I THANK YOUR FRIEND WITH HIS IDEA ;happy weight” is the weight you can maintain with a diet you enjoy
    IT WILL HELP ME TO ACCEPT WHO I AM

    Millen
    daretochangelife.com

  11. Pingback: Ambitious much? «

    • On
    • October 30, 2013 at 1:06 am
    • william
    • Said...

    fantastic, refreshing article/post

    i am on the end of a pretty brutal break up with my ex girlfriend and all i read is ‘No Contact’ and within this period you must, must self improve.
    most of these self improvements cost money and have you running about the place like youre in a tampon ad..

    as a northern english lad in sydney, have been for 4 years, the temptation is to go home. although the pain im feeling about the break up is driving me home, im surprising myself that im managing to stay and enjoy the city..

    nevermind learning to surf, make 240 new yoga friends in a week, get promoted and earn $300k a year, get a new supermodel girlfriend and marry her and rub your exes nose in it, travel the world but dont get in debt, run 3 marathons next month and look like johnny bravo come christmas..

    making myself happier would most likely involve playing more golf with my mates, improving at work and being more diligent, quitting the fags, getting a bit fitter and yes, maybe making more mates..

    the constant ramming down the throat of transforming myself into superman as soon as me and the ex handed our keys back over has made me nothing but inadequate and anxious..

    nope i cant cook, dont earn a great deal and drink/smoke too much. on the other hand, im 6ft 2ins, good looking and am a kind soul.

    if that appeals to my potential future mrs then ill be happy, if not, then ill be happy down the pub enjoying a laugh with my brother or playing a few holes with my dad. that to me is worth more than anything. maybe this little story is my subconscious telling me i should maybe think about a return to manchester!

    thankyou for the words. love Will xxx

  12. The most important thing that it appears you’ve now come to realize is that as long as you’re walking the path of self-improvement it doesn’t matter that you haven’t yet reached the summit. Know that you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and take acceptance in that.